SANTA MONICA, CA -- The former campaign manager of several top California lawmakers and Santa Monica politicians was ordered Wednesday to eight years in prison for stealing millions of dollars from her clients.
In addition to the 97-month term, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller in Sacramento also ordered Kinde Durkee, 59, of Long Beach, to pay $10.5 million in restitution to her victims.
In what's believed to be the largest embezzlement scam of its kind, federal prosecutors allege Durkee, over the course of 12 years, stole money from clients' campaigns, used the money for business expenses and prepared false campaign finance disclosure reports to hide the thefts.
Santa Monica victims reportedly include City Councilman Terry O'Day—who lost $16,000—Rent Control Board candidate Chris Braun and Santa Monicans for Quality Government, a developer-backed Political Action Committee involved in the 2010 election, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press.
Defense attorney Daniel Nixon argued in a brief filed in October that his client did not use the money to fund a "lavish lifestyle,'' asserting she engineered the scheme to save her Burbank-based business.
"Although a significant amount of money was used to pay for personal expenses, including mortgage payments and credit card charges, a great deal of the stolen funds were used to keep the business afloat and her employees employed," Nixon wrote in the court papers.
Durkee used the money she took from her clients to pay the mortgage on her Long Beach condominium, meet payroll for her staff, cover health insurance bills and her credit card debt and pay for her mother's senior residential facility, according to prosecutors.
"A lot of people were hurt badly by her, and many more so than I was," O’Day told the Daily Press. "I do hope they feel some measure of justice on Wednesday."
Durkee's scheme is believed to be the largest embezzlement scheme by a
campaign committee treasurer ever prosecuted, according to Lauren Horwood of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento.
When she was arrested by the FBI in September 2011, the Santa Monica LookOut described Durkee as a "behind-the-scenes player in recent Santa Monica election controversies."
According to the online news website, Durkee's accounting firm, Durkee and Associates, was named in a complaint filed with California's Fair Political Practices Commission by a local political action committee that claimed she concealed the sources of funding for misleading campaign mailers distributed on behalf of Santa Monicans for Quality Government.
"Only at the tail end of the campaign was financial disclosure information filed with the City Clerk, revealing that the mailers were bankrolled by development interests," the LookOut reported. "In particular, one mailer used the Santa Monica Police union logo, but didn't include City Council candidate Kevin McKeown, whom the union had endorsed."
For the full story on Durkee's arrest, click over to Long Beach Patch.
— City News Service contributed to this report.